04 The Leper

4

 LEPER

 

Matthew 8:1-4 (NIV)                                                     
1 When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy are willing, you can make me clean." 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."                                                                           

 

Mark 1:40-45 (NIV)                                                      
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured, 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to       anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

 

Luke 5:12-16 (NIV)

12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 Then Jesus ordered him, "Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."         15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

 

 

Background Leprosy

 

Under Jewish law, lepers were outcasts.    In Lev 13: 45-46 the rules regarding treatment of lepers are clearly laid down.

 

In many ways, being deemed unclean must have been worse than the disease itself. It meant that the sufferer was separated from family and friends, indeed from all human contact. Imagine what that must have been like. Humans are by nature social creatures and few of us do well in isolation. Hence its use as a form of punishment and torture.

 

Imagine, also, what it must have been like for the family. How does one bear to see the spouse, parent, child or sibling whom we love, cast out in that way?

 

Not only that but wherever they went, lepers were met with fear and often hatred and repulsion.   The human race was never good at coping with those who were ‘different’ and if they presented a risk to our own health, whether real or perceived, then tolerance and compassion were the first things to go out of the window. What an awful life it must have been for sufferers.

 

Furthermore, there was no spiritual help or support to be had. They were banned from involvement in worship and left in a spiritual desert.

 

Such was our Lord’s compassion that he broke the rules of Jewish society and actually touched the leper.   No Jew would willingly touch someone deemed unclean for it made them in turn unclean and necessitated elaborate, time-consuming and expensive rituals in order to return themselves to a state of cleanliness. Without this they could not partake in worship or social interaction.

 

 

BASIC QUESTIONS

1.     Identify as completely as possible the person in need (e.g., age, ethnic origin, religion, gender, social status).

 

2. What was the immediate, obvious need?

 

3. Who took the initiative in effecting the healing?

      The person in need?                            Others?                         Jesus?

      How was it expressed?

4.     Describe the actions or process leading to the healing; that is, what was said (e.g., questions, requests, corn-mantis) and what was done (e.g., approaching, following, touching, publicly/privately), and by whom?

 

5. Did the person in need or someone else verbally express faith? ~. Non-verbally? ~. Describe how and by whom faith was involved in this healing.

 

6. What were the evidences that the person was healed?

 

7. What were the reactions to the healing?

 

8. What in this narrative led Jesus to minister healing to the person in need?

 

DIGGING DEEPER

 

1. How was leprosy regarded in Bible times?

2. Under what circumstances did the man meet Jesus?

3. Were the Jewish "laws" violated in this encounter? By whom?

4. What is significant about Jesus touching the man?

5.     What instructions did Jesus give to the man following the healing? For background on Jesus' instruction, "Go show yourself to the priest ...," see Leviticus 14:2-32. Why do you think it was important for a person who had been cleansed of an infectious disease like leprosy to go through a public ceremony to certify this cleansing?

6. Describe the man's attitude in approaching Jesus.

7. What element of doubt is contained in the man's statement, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."?

8. What generalizations can be made about Jesus' willingness to minister healing to the sick and possessed?

 

9. If Jesus is so willing to heal, why do you think that so many people are not healed? 10. How did Jesus express love, counselling or encouragement?

 

11. What lesson(s) have you learned about healing from this account?

 

 

The healing of the leper Further thoughts by Chris Low

Mark 1: 40 –end ( Mat 8: 1-4; Lk 5: 12-16)

 

The healing of the leper is one of many incidents of healing described in the Gospels and these are no doubt only a tiny selection of those that occurred in response to our Lord’s ministry.   Three of the Gospel writers include this incident in their Gospels, no doubt because it gives us important examples of our Lord’s love and compassion along with reference points for how we should minister in his name.

 

To fully appreciate what was going on here we need to look closely at the situation. When I was teaching literature to GCSE students, an important component of the study of any piece of literature was its social and historic context.  

 

That context in relation to the healing of the leper is very important.   Under Jewish law, lepers were outcasts.    In Lev 13: 45-46 the rules regarding treatment of lepers are clearly laid down.

 

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’ . He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

 

In many ways, being deemed unclean must have been worse than the disease itself. It meant that the sufferer was separated from family and friends, indeed from all human contact. Imagine what that must have been like. Humans are by nature social creatures and few of us do well in isolation. Hence its use as a form of punishment and torture.

 

Imagine, also, what it must have been like for the family. How does one bear to see the spouse, parent, child or sibling whom we love, cast out in that way?

 

Not only that but wherever they went, lepers were met with fear and often hatred and repulsion.   The human race was never good at coping with those who were ‘different’ and if they presented a risk to our own health, whether real or perceived, then tolerance and compassion were the first things to go out of the window. What an awful life it must have been for sufferers.

 

Furthermore, there was no spiritual help or support to be had. They were banned from involvement in worship and left in a spiritual desert.

 

No wonder Jesus felt such deep compassion for the leper; The King James version translates most accurately the Greek word used here for compassion. It says; ‘His bowels were moved with compassion’.

 

The Hebrews believed that compassion came from the gut rather than the heart, as in Western traditions. So Jesus felt gut-wrenching pity for this man.

 

Such was our Lord’s compassion that he broke the rules of Jewish society and actually touched the leper.   No Jew would willingly touch someone deemed unclean for it made them in turn unclean and necessitated elaborate, time-consuming and expensive rituals in order to return themselves to a state of cleanliness. Without this they could not partake in worship or social interaction.

 

Yet, as on other occasions, Jesus reached out and touched the man. He could have simply spoken a word and the man would have been healed. He had no need to touch this man at all; yet he did.

 

So why did he do so?  It was an expression of the acceptance and love that our Lord has for all, no matter what their state, or condition.   What must the leper have felt when this great teacher and miracle worker reached out and touched him in front of all those people, who were no doubt all drawing away from him in fear and revulsion. What balm to his soul.

 

We are reminded Christ’s compassion and deep love for all, by the words used during our celebration of Holy Communion when we use Euch Pr D.

 

With signs of faith and words of hope he touched the untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean. (Euch Prayer D)

 

There is an important lesson for us in this. If we are truly his followers then we too must reach out to those on the margins of society. It’s not always comfortable to step out in this way; it can put us in harms way; lead to a degree of social ostracism or mockery or simply take us outside of our comfort zone, but this is what being a Christian means.

 

Healing has many levels and often at its deepest it has nothing to do with the physical need. Rather it is in the deepest parts of our mind and spirit that the most important, life-changing healing can take place.

 

The leper, kneeling before Jesus asked,   ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’  Some people imagine that God only heals those he deems worthy. That just isn’t true, I could give you so many examples from my own experience in the healing ministry that refute that idea, but we don’t have time to do so here.

 

What neither I, nor anyone else can do, is fully explain why some who receive healing ministry are healed of whatever ails them while others are not. I only know that our Lord’s Kingdom has not yet fully come, here on earth, and there is still great evil at work which somehow blocks or prevents the flow of our Lord’s healing love.  

 

What I am certain of however, is this:   God loves us and that love remains un-changing and undeserved, we can do nothing to make him love us more or less, for he is love.   Illness of any kind is not a punishment for sins although it can sometimes be a consequence of our wrong actions as any situation of cause and effect.     Eg Christopher. Dad’s death.

 

God’s will for us all is that we be whole in body, mind and spirit, but we inhabit a broken, fallen world and our ultimate wholeness lies with him on the other side of death.

 

The leper believed himself to be unworthy of our Lord’s attention but knew that if Jesus chose to notice him he could heal him. And, of course, our Lord did just that. He affirmed him by his touch and confirmed his healing in his words. ‘I do choose, be made clean’.

 

There are so many people out there who need to hear those words, to understand our Lord’s deep love for them, regardless of society’s attitude to them. How are they to hear those life-changing words unless we speak them?

 

We can do so in so many ways. A smile, kind word, act of compassion, a helping hand; are all ways of demonstrating God’s love for us.   If we’ his people, those who say they love him and want to serve him, do not follow up with action then how is the world to know of his unchanging, life renewing love? What we cannot do is turn our backs or look the other way because someone does not measure up to our society’s standards.

 

Do you believe you are able to minister healing in Jesus’ name? …….let me tell you, you can.   Maybe you have not been given the gift of healing; the ability to reach out in Jesus’ name and through him bring healing of ailments, infirmities, diseases and disabilities; but you all have the ability to demonstrate our Lord’s love and acceptance and that is even more important. And you do this wondrous work simply through the way you interact with others, through your willingness to see them as God does.

 

 

Jesus commanded his followers to do as he had done and to go out and preach, teach and heal.   You will find these instances in Lk 9:1-6; [authorising and equipping the 12] Lk. 10 [extending the commission to others]; Mk 16:18 [ Jesus expectation that all of his followers would be involved in some way in healing] 1Cor. 12:9 [healing as a gift of the Holy Spirit].

 

It does not say that we do so only where it’s comfortable and convenient to do. Or that we minister only to the worthy or socially acceptable.

 

The wonderful thing about all of this, of course, is that he doesn’t ask or want us to do any of this in our own strength. He gives us the strength, insight, compassion to act through his Holy Spirit. We only have to acknowledge our own inadequacy and ask for his help and it is given to us in spadeloads. Moreover, we do not have to be especially worthy, holy or good Christians for him to use us in his service.

 

The Broadway musical, "Godspell", has many wonderful scenes in it, many moving, dramatic moments. One of my favourites is that scene toward the end where Jesus is with his disciples in The Upper Room. The disciples are all painted up as clowns.

 

He takes a bucket of water, a rag, and a mirror, and he goes to the disciples each in turn, and he washes away their clown faces.

Then he holds the mirror up in front of them to let them see themselves as they really are, and then He hugs them. The point is clear and powerful. They didn't have to wear false faces. They didn't have to hide their inadequacies.  He loved them with and despite them.

 

Nor do we.  God loves and accepts us just as we are.   We are all unworthy but it doesn’t matter he loves us all unconditionally and will use us in his service if we will only let him.

 

What an important word for us as we approach and travel through Lent towards the joy of Easter. The King of Kings who chose to suffer and die for us, who rose from the dead to sit at God’s right hand; loves each of us so much that we are never beyond the reach of his grace. Unworthy though we are in worldly and spiritual terms he will still respond to us when we turn to him in faith and trust.

The leper took a huge risk in throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, he was breaking the law in approaching someone who was not unclean. He could have been stoned to death.   Yet such was his faith that Jesus could heal him that he took that chance.   Perhaps too, his action was borne out of desperation.

 

No wonder he couldn’t contain his delight and rushed to tell all who would hear, of the miracle that had occurred. Jesus did not want people declaring him to be the Messiah at that stage, he knew it would impede his work and make it difficult for him to find solitude in which to pray; which is why he told the man to keep quiet about what had happened and simply show himself to the priests, who were the only ones authorised to restore him to his place in Jewish society by declaring him to be clean.

 

We need to have that man’s evangelical zeal; we need to be ready to share with others the wonder of our Lord’s love and grace and to do so in those places where all is not tidy and acceptable and in situations where it’s not always convenient or comfortable.   God calls each of us to serve him in the ways he desires and to do so in his time, not ours.

 

So, it doesn't matter what the issue is -- the answer is obedience and trust; obedience to our Lord’s call, knowing that he will give us all that we need to respond; and trust in him and his unfailing love; because only Christ can do for us and for others, what needs to be done and so often he chooses to do so through us, allowing us to be his voice, his hands, his feet. May we each be ready to accept the challenge this brings, sharing his love with all whom we meet.